Dear Member of the Illinois General Assembly:
We strongly encourage you to oppose the “Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.” From our experience protecting the constitutional rights of Illinois residents for over 15 years, we believe that this Act is both unnecessary and gravely harmful to religious liberty rights. In 2010, the General Assembly enacted a civil union law which provided the same rights and privileges to civil union couples as are enjoyed by married couples. Because of that civil union law, Illinois’ same-sex civil union couples already have the same substantive legal rights as married couples do.
However, if you vote “yes” to the proposed same-sex marriage bill, you will harm your constituents in two primary ways:
1) You will declare your constituents who believe that marriage is a union of one man and one woman to be bigots and discriminators. You will further ensure that this declaration is reinforced through official government policy. For instance, as in other states, you may see public schools in your district instruct children, beginning in kindergarten, that (a) same-sex couples and same-sex sexual activity are the same as opposite-sex married couples and opposite-sex marital sexual activity or that (b) kids do not need both a mom and a dad – two moms or two dads are just as good. Parents in your district who disagree have no right under law to opt their young children out of this kind of instruction.
2) You will strip away the meager religious liberty protections of the 2010 civil union law, as these protections are not included in the 2013 same-sex marriage bill. These religious liberty protections currently provide explicit shelter to Catholic Charities and other faith-based adoption agencies in providing private adoptions. These protections also shelter Evangelical, Catholic, and other faith-based organizations, including hospitals and schools, from being charged with Illinois Human Rights Act violations when they follow their beliefs on marriage in employment, facilities rental, and other decisions. Penalties for violating the Human Rights Act include fines, injunctions, and other penalties intended to force acceptance of same-sex unions.
What benefit would a “yes” vote provide to same-sex couples? The mere changing of a title of a license – such that the license for most same-sex unions would now read “marriage license” instead of “civil union license.” And, if the example of other states holds true here, the words “Husband” and “Wife” would be stricken from marriage licenses in favor of “Party A” and “Party B.” Again, a “yes” vote on same sex marriage would not grant a single additional substantive legal right to any homosexual couple in Illinois.
However, there are likely more grave harms, yet unknown in type and intensity, that will afflict your constituents who are faithful Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Missouri Synod Lutherans, Muslims, Mormons, and Orthodox Jews. The harms listed above are only the likely harms foreseeable in the short-term.
The harms noted above do not begin to address the suffering of your constituents who must participate in and support same-sex unions: small bed & breakfast owners who would be forced to rent out their home for same-sex wedding weekends; solo photographers who would be forced to spend hours photographing and designing albums for same-sex wedding ceremonies that they believe to be sinful; family catering company owners being forced to prepare, feed, serve, and support same-sex wedding receptions, even though the family members oppose those receptions with every fiber of their being. In other states, such businesses have been fined and subject to injunctions, some even permanently shutting down to avoid legal penalty.
A “yes” vote will inflict these harms, all for the sake of giving the title “married” to some number of the fewer than 1% of Illinois households headed by same-sex couples.
This morning, several amendments that purport to protect religious liberty were rushed through that made the bill worse, not better. The alleged “protection” for religious hiring is so weak that it wouldn’t protect Catholic and Christian grade schools from being forced to hire teachers in same-sex marriages. The section on facilities rental wouldn’t protect most parish halls and Knights of Columbus halls from being enlisted into service for same-sex wedding ceremonies, since many of those halls are not used “primarily ... for worship or religious purposes.” The section defining “religious organizations” wouldn’t protect Catholic hospitals and healthcare facilities, Catholic Charities, the Knights of Columbus, and other religious service and fraternal organizations. Only time will tell whether organizations would be forced to shut down or significantly reduce their ministries in order to avoid the reach of the “Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.” Of course, none of this morning’s amendments even acknowledge the conscience issues faced by people of faith who are forced into participating in these ceremonies.
Titling this measure, “Religious Freedom,” is an insult to people of faith – your constituents who go to church weekly, quietly serve their community, and merely ask to be allowed to live out their faith in their daily lives.
Our national motto, E Pluribus Unum, teaches us that while we are one nation, we are a union of many folks of different races, colors, and creeds. Thus we teach tolerance as a solvent that melds us together in a shared political community in spite of our differences. This measure, however, that purports to foster tolerance, swings the pendulum so far as to epitomize intolerance, forcing a vast segment of society to act at odds with their conscience and to behave in ways that offend their fundamental beliefs about right and wrong. In the name of tolerance, then, this bill must be rejected.
President & Chief Counsel of Thomas More Society
Executive Director & Legal Counsel